By Beatrice Sell, Volunteer at Sambhali Trust
In most countries, there is an assumption that domestic abuse is limited to the confines of a couple. In India, this is further translatable as a married couple. However, this is far from the case. When speaking of domestic abuse, especially in this part of the world, it is crucial to recognize that abuse commonly stretches beyond the parameters of a marriage, to involve the extended family. Here, married couples are expected to live in the husband's childhood home, where the wife is subject to the authority of his family. Sadly, this additional dependency means that in-law abuse is a common occurrence across the country, and sadly Jodhpur is no exception. Rather, here at Sambhali it seems that the majority of women claiming domestic abuse will mention the involvement of their in-laws.
Pinky, a recent addition to Sambhali’s Jodhpur Empowerment Centre, is fighting to stay positive having emerged from four years of devastating abuse at the hands of her husband, and his family. To those acquainted with domestic violence, Pinky’s story is a familiar one. As is so often the case anywhere in the world, it was only after an initial honeymoon period that a pattern of abuse began to noticeably manifest itself. Following the wedding, Pinky had two peaceful months before her new family first exhibited the controlling behavior that would quickly escalate into psychological and physical torment.
'My mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and my father-in-law dictated my every movement. I was confined to one room, and not even allowed to look out of the window, or bathe, without their permission. My food was withheld from me, and I was forbidden to talk to any of the neighbors, or even my parents. I was like a slave, I had to clean and cook every day from before dawn to after midnight.’
Far from helping his wife, Pinky’s husband exploited the situation to legitimize his own cruelty - 'I never knew when the beatings would come next, once he pushed my head in the toilet because I placed something in the 'wrong' place. He beat me in front of his mistress.’
Hoping that a child might ease her situation, Pinky planned her pregnancy early in the marriage. However, the birth of her daughter only aggravated the cycle of abuse. Her mother-in-law especially would taunt her for failing to produce a boy, and would publicly label the child as illegitimate-accusing Pinky of an extramarital affair. While her husband did not confirm these accusations, he nevertheless maintained a level of antipathy towards his child.
Eventually however, Pinky did reach a breaking point. Upon the discovery that her husband made a living primarily from pimping, she offered to work for a cleaner wage. Desperately short of money, her husband presented Pinky with an ultimatum. She was given the choice of either formally prostituting herself; sleeping with her father-in-law, who in return would ‘give her anything’; or asking her own family for money. Knowing that her family themselves had been struggling with poverty since the payment of her dowry, Pinky was aware that they simply could not afford to support her further.
Her husband's obsessive demands for money were coupled with violent episodes. By this stage, he was drinking frequently and beginning to lose control over himself. Every day was a torment of aggression, and violent confrontations- ‘Once he tried to gas us with the cooking cylinder’. Since her wedding, Pinky had been threatened never to reveal her home conditions to her family, however her husband’s unpredictable behavior caused Pinky to completely break down in a state of terror. 'I would forget what I was saying mid-sentence, I was a mess. I was so scared of him, I eventually forced myself to tell my mother what was happening'.
By finally revealing the extent of her situation to her mother, Pinky broke the silence that had held her hostage for the past 4 years. It has now been 11 months since Pinky has estranged herself from her husband. Today, Pinky's primary concern is to achieve economic independence from her parents, to support her daughter and begin her life again. Two months ago, she was introduced to Sambhali Trust, and since then has been working hard to educate herself, and learn to sew in order to sustain a steady income as a seamstress. When reflecting on her past, she hopes that other girls in a similar situation will have the courage to leave their abusers. She says 'Indian tradition teaches us to accept everything and anything, and that it is our duty to hold our marriage together. But the abuse will never stop, and they will never lose the taste for violence. Never tolerate, always fight back.'
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